After a championship game of phone tag, I managed to catch up with Nervous Records veterans, and Crosstown Rebels’ latest discovery, the duo known as Walker & Royce. A mutual collaboration between Samuel Walker & Gavin Royce, they are a part of the next wave of rising DJs/producers hoping to restore balance to the dancefloor here in the Big Apple. We sat down over a pitcher of beer and half price Sushi at Gavin’s favorite haunt in the East Village to discuss their upcoming EP, their creative process and the state of nightlife in New York as they see it.
My underlying mantra is to start using sounds that we think are cheesy now, because they won’t be in a few years. If you make it cool. If you are living in the ‘70s and you heard 80’s music, you would think it’s cheesy and/or cold and different until you got used to it. -Samuel Walker
From the top. Where did you two meet and how did you come to start making music together?
Walker: We first met at Studio Distribution, but we didn’t really connect musically until we were both working at Nervous Records. In 2008 I got really sick of minimal techno, and switched gears to a more electro sound. I got into artists like Lifelike and Classix. At that time, Gavin was doing a very damaged disco sound.
Royce: While at Nervous, I remember I would come to Sam to chat about Ableton, get tips, etc., but things changed when Sam did a remix under the Hotline name while at Nervous. He was working on something else and asked if I would take a listen to it. That’s when I realized that we were at a musical crossroads together. I had been offered a remix for Dither Down, and asked him if he wanted to work on it with me. That was the first track we collaborated on. It was the remix of the 33hz track “Nightspot.” It really worked, so we decided to go for it.
How did the EP for Crosstown Rebels come about?
Walker: We did a remix of a track by Saarid—which is a friend of ours, Mark Palgy, and he had Javi Silva singing on that—called “Future Lately,” a track Gavin signed to Nurvous. It became an underground hit. People started making all these Youtube videos with the track. Our manager Andrew at Nervous ended up sending it to a few key people, like Danny Daze. Somehow it gets in the hands of Damian Lazarus, who started playing it everywhere. Damian called up Andrew and asked for our Demo. He liked the work, and asked to sign us to Crosstown for an EP. “You’re Not Welcome” was just a sketch at that point, so we were pretty surprised. We ended up finishing that track, and another called “Stare If You Want To.” And that's Javi singing on “Stare” too.
As an aside, would you mind shedding some light on the difference between Nervous Records and Nurvous Records?
Walker: Sure—we both work for Nervous Records; "Nurvous" is a sub-label of Nervous. So Nervous is the main label and the stronghold of the harder New York House sound, and Nurvous is the more indie-leaning nu-disco and deep house offshoot.
Brilliant. So, the remix of “Future Lately” is a larger than life track. Was that your intention from the beginning?
Royce: The “Future Lately” track was very vocal and 90’s revival, but modern. I knew the people who were remixing the track, so I had an idea of what their direction would be. We wanted to do something different. We wanted to make it a big room banger. Everyone else was doing a midnight track, but we wanted a 3:30 am track. After discussing it, we said we would meet in a week, but Sam Skype’s me the next day with a sketch, and it was exactly what we talked about.
Tell me about your creative process? How do you two work together?
Royce: For an original track, we think of the vibe and discuss whether we want to use samples. Sometimes we listen to other tracks; sometimes we have a specific track in mind. We sometimes search 90’s acapellas, and sometimes drop the acapella on top to see how it sounds. We really start by discussing, then Sam will go rough up some sounds and come back to me. Once the idea is there, Sam will spend anywhere from two hours to two days engineering the pieces, then we reconverge.
Walker: Sometimes, I’ll come to Gavin with a track that I feel is fully formed, and Gavin will tear it apart and rearrange it and make it sound totally different. He has an ear for arrangement. When you are writing it, it often starts as one idea, but can become something completely different. I am usually the guy who zoomed in doing the nitty gritty sound creation, and Gavin is zoomed and sees the big picture.
People who don’t live here expect that every night in NYC is just insane. But that’s not necessarily the case. There is a lot of hype, and not enough dancing. -Gavin Royce
Who are your first influences over the? Who made you get started DJing and making music?
Royce: Daft Punk made me want to write music and Doc Martin Made me want to DJ.
Walker: Sasha and Digweed, Fatboy Slim and The Chemical brothers were definitely important.
Your work is clearly looking back to a lot of 90’s disco house and R&B sounds, do you think that you will continue to work in this vein or will your sound evolve?
Royce: I think we are always looking 20-years back.
Walker: My underlying mantra is to start using sounds that we think are cheesy now, because they won’t be in a few years. If you make it cool. If you are living in the ‘70s and you heard 80’s music, you would think it’s cheesy and/or cold and different until you got used to it. As an engineer I intentionally try to use odd sounds at times, stuff that is a bit off and occasionally out of time. You cut new ground by going off, by making something that sounds wrong. We really like what we are doing, and we really like that people like it too. It is so fulfilling, but it doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try something else.
What is your experience playing out together, and how are you two performing together?
Royce: Right now it’s a straight DJ set. I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but I have been surprised how well it’s working. Sam used to use Ableton, and I used to use Serato. Now we play CDJs and a choice bag of vinyl.
Where are you guys playing lately?
Royce: We are playing a lot of the Nurvous Records parties at Cielo. We will be playing the new Sunday summer party, Verboten Disasters, at Lorely, and on June 22nd we will be playing at Sullivan Room with Cassian and Volta Bureau.
Your music is riding the line between techno and nu disco, what do you think about these scenes in NY?
Royce: Right now I think that the disco scene is more closed lately, and the techno scene is evolving and turning into the house scene. It was the opposite a few years ago.
EDM is big right now in America again, have you guys considered touring?
Royce: We want to yes, and I hope it happens...
Walker: ...and we would not mind playing huge festivals as well (laughs).
What do you think about the state of NY nightlife?
Royce: It doesn’t “go off” like it used to. People who don’t live here expect that every night in NYC is just insane. But that’s not necessarily the case. There is a lot of hype, and not enough dancing. In other cities, people go to a dance club to dance.
Walker: Yeah exactly, there just seems to be too much posturing.
Blondes or Brunettes? Go...
What is your favorite 80’s movie?
Walker:Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Royce:The Karate Kid
Do you have any advice for young DJs and producers out there?
Royce: Don’t do it to be cool, do it if you have something to say.
Walker: You have to be different.
What is it that Walker & Royce is saying with their music?
Walker: Our sound says we love everything that we’ve experienced.
Royce: Our work is a reflection of what we’ve heard and what we hope to hear.
What releases do you have coming up?
Royce: The EP on Crosstown Rebels came May 28th on vinyl, and June 11th digitally. Another track, “Connected” will be on a summer sampler for Off Recordings alongside Wildcats, Jesse Perez & Andre Crom. There is also one on Dither Down; one on Glasgow Underground and of course remixes for Nurvous.
Any shout outs?
Royce:(Laughing.) My man Little Craig...Big Jimmy...Half Dead...
Walker: Martin Augustin!!!
The interview concludes with a call from Gavin’s Mom, who lovingly calls five times a day.